The dilemma of the African millennial
I am part of the Generation Y, the so-called millennials, the generation that grew up with the beginning of globalisation and the fresh wave of a post cold war urban culture. Like many Gen-Y urban dwellers, I aspire to live my dreams, achieve something greater than myself. We Gen-Y are often opposed to our Gen-X parents on that very sense of purpose: we are not just defined by how much and how hard we work, but also how meaningful what we do is. We are not just defined by What we do and How we do it, we are inspired and defined by Why we do it.
However, I only recently came to realise that this may not be an absolute truth for all millennials, and that where one grows up is an important factor in one's reality.
I was born in 1986 in Cameroon and grew up in a society where family and community are paramount. I also grew up with TV, mass media, video games, and my generation was the first group of Africans having such exposure. We were addicted to Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Bay Watch, Popular, Fastlane, and the list goes on... Popular is a good example of how we grew up. We were so addicted to it that we commented every single episode at school. Some of us were even nicknamed after characters: we had our own Josh Ford, our own Brooke, our own Sugar Daddy...
We were crazy about the NBA, and naturally Hip Hop. We shared all basketball and Rap magazines, were aware of all the new sneakers and dreamed of wearing the last one we saw on NBA action the previous weekend. Those with the wealthiest parents amongst us always proudly wore the latest ones, precious gifts their parents brought them back from Europe or the US. The Foamposite, Flighposite and Air Jumpman Pro alike were our holy grails... And if you could have Timbaland boots too, you were THE GUY in school!
We lived through the emergence of Internet, quite expensive in the early 2000's, but how could we resist such an incredible window to the world? I still vividly remember a night of late January 2000 when a friend of mine and I stayed in an Internet cafe (Yoro Joss in Douala, Cameroon) until 11 PM after school, playing the “apprenti" lovers on tchatche.com and clubado.fr… Needless to say, my mom went mental over this!
We, African millennials, are the first generation of Africans who grew up in a connected world, the first generation to truly be immersed in a dominating American Culture. We consumed media promoting individual choices, free will and individual freedom. We are surrounded by elders and parents who are the reflection of a community-centric society though, a contrast that creates a particularly painful dissonance. Our adult selves end up trapped between 2 worlds that have less in common than our adolescent selves let us believe: an individualist approach inherited from the western media, and the traditional collectivist approach inherited from our elders. I call it the dilemma of the African millennial.
I made some important choices in my life these last 3 years, most exclusively focused on myself. From my mistakes, I better understand what cultural bridges mean: taking the best of others' culture to enrich ours, and use the mix to pursue what is best. Because that "best" embodies the greatest of both worlds, it should help us avoiding the emotional cost of leaving the community aside on our quest to fulfil our purpose. Maybe once we solve our dissonance, we'll be able to pass our experience along to our younger African sisters and brothers so they don't face a dilemma of the post-millennial African. Or if they do face one, hopefully not the same as ours.